That’s my condition this week; I have no idea where it came from, and it turns out we don’t know where the word comes from either (OED: “Relationship to other Teutonic roots is uncertain, and no outside cognates have been traced”). At any rate, I have not the mental energy to come up with a clever and enlightening entry, so here’s one of my favorite short Charles Reznikoff poems (and I must immediately qualify this by saying that most Reznikoff poems are quite long):


Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.
Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

(From Inscriptions 1944 -1956.)


  1. Get well soon!

  2. I’ll second that. Here’s to a rapid recovery.

  3. Thirded!

  4. Fourthed?
    Anyway, please be well again soon!

  5. Take care and get well soon.

  6. Thanks, everyone. I hope I haven’t misled you; I’m not sick sick, I’m not going to a doctor (shudder) or anything drastic like that, it’s just, you know, a cold/flu/something going around, scratchy throat, sniffles, general lassitude, that kind of thing. I called in sick yesterday, went in today even though I didn’t feel a whole lot better, will go in tomorrow unless I feel a whole lot worse, and will grimly wait the invariable week till I’m well again. It’s just that I’m generally in such good health that I resent even this mild under-the-weather business. I’ll try not to whine any more.

  7. Beautiful poem. Another way of saying “Health is the main thing” (you can tell I had a Jewish grandmother). Get well soon:-)

  8. “SICK” s.i.c.k send in cosy kumpherters: You Know that the Saxons dislike long complicated words: Malade (de) “blank” does not work for the Angles: the Romans would not use a word for they only wanted fit slaves. Anyway I’m glad that you don’t have to buy a Roller. On second thoughts it may mean ” Send In Chicken Knoodles”;

  9. We don’t mind the occasional whine. 🙂
    Besides, feeling sick is wretched, even when it is “just” a cold.

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    I thought there might be a link with sihte O.E swamp? Similarly German siechen/ Seuche but no authority makes this connection.

  11. Alas, the OED entry (from 1910) still hasn’t been updated.

  12. Wiktionary quite boldly claims that it is from O.E. sēoc all the way back to PIE *sewg-

  13. John Cowan says

    Etymonline says more conservatively: “It is the general Germanic word (compare Old Norse sjukr, Danish syg, Old Saxon siok, Old Frisian siak, Middle Dutch siec, Dutch ziek, Old High German sioh, Gothic siuks), but in German and Dutch displaced by krank ‘weak, slim’, probably originally with a sense of ‘twisted, bent’.” Cf. English crank.

    Apparently the specialization to ‘nauseated’, now dominant outside North America, is early-17C. The conservative KJV consistently uses sick; ill is rare and almost always means ‘bad(ly)’, as in ill-favoured ‘bad-looking’, ill blemish ‘ugly blemish’, it shall be/go ill with him ‘things will go badly for him’.

  14. Yes, in Standard German, siech and the verb (dahin)siechen are purely literary and slightly antiquated words, and they imply more than illness – something chronical or decrepitude, requiring constant care.
    The derived noun Seuche, OTOH, is alive and means “plague, epidemic”.
    My impression is that Dutch ziek is holding up better than it’s German cognate, being used in compounds like ziekenhuis “hospital”.

  15. Trond Engen says

    Hans: My impression is that Dutch ziek is holding up better than it’s German cognate, being used in compounds like ziekenhuis “hospital”.

    Scandinavian too. No. sykehus/sjukehus, Da. sygehus, Sw. sjukhus “hospital”. No. syk-/sjukmelding “sick leave”, sykehjem/sjukeheim “(type of) nursing home”, Da. sygeforsikring “health insurance”, Sw. sjukvård “health care”, etc.

  16. Stu Clayton says

    … in Standard German, siech and the verb (dahin)siechen are purely literary and slightly antiquated words, and they imply more than illness – something chronical or decrepitude, requiring constant care.

    True. That’s why I refer to the hateful old moribund geezer who lives in the apartment below mine as ein sieches Stück Scheiße.

  17. Harsh.

  18. Stu Clayton says

    Without knowing this guy and what he gets up to, how will you judge whether my description is harsh ? I know only two techniques, both circumvent the question of evidence. There is the high-minded “nobody is like that” approach, which denies that evidence can exist: weil … nicht sein kann was nicht sein darf as Morgenstern neatly put it. Then there is the “even if it’s true, you shouldn’t say that” approach, which denies that evidence can be relevant: was nicht paßt, wird passend gemacht.

  19. Both of your options imply that a judgment can’t be harsh and just at the same time.

  20. Stu Clayton says

    I was assuming that was your view. It’s certainly not mine. Now I wonder why you remarked that my expression seems “harsh”, instead of, say, remarking that he must be a real bastard to deserve that characterization.

    It may help to relate that he uses his moribund state as a weapon: internally, in the apartment house, he doesn’t appear moribund at all, just as a hateful and malicious nosy parker. Only towards passers-by that he nabs (he lives on the ground floor, hangs around in his window and accosts them) does he play the “I’m dying” role, to give credence to his claims that he is an innocent victim whom other people in the house treat badly.

  21. David Marjanović says


    Kids Today say “sick burn”.

  22. If I try to reconstruct what was going on in my mind almost an hour ago, I may well go wrong, but I think I was a bit curious about the story behind your judgment, and remarking on its harshness was the first and easiest way to try to get in a conversation about this. It worked, obviously. I don’t know what it says about me that this was the most natural way for me to react.

  23. Stu Clayton says

    A direct question would have worked just as well. Generally I give people what-for whom I don’t know and who try to elicit background information by that technique. Here I let my defenses down by starting the whole business, so it would be ridiculous to jump on my high horse after I myself had let it loose. Unfortunately I do know what that says about me.

  24. *turns the hose on the unruly mob*

  25. John Cowan says

    I think that when it comes to judgments, harsh implies ‘lacking in mercy’ rather than ‘lacking in justice’, unless so extreme as to be outright unjust, like burning Joan of Arc.

    Its etymology is slightly mysterious: it is certainly Germanic, but unrecorded in OE. Nobody knows if that’s just accidental or if it is borrowed from the Continental Germanics, either North or West.

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